Review by Shaun Langevin, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2019
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Cubelets Blockly

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Versatile robots teach many engineering and coding skills

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Math

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
K–12
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Pros: Appropriate at any grade level; students will enjoy building, testing, and modifying their robots; plenty of tips and tutorials available.

Cons: The Cubelets Blockly app isn't well suited for elementary-age students.

Bottom Line: The scalability of the Cubelets learning experience makes them an excellent addition to any school or STEM club.

A fun way to introduce Cubelets is to give them to small groups of students to figure out how they work. Give younger kids a small set of Cubelets and watch as they figure out how to construct a working robot. Older students will be challenged by the same activity if teachers add some of the more advanced Cubelets. 

For more formal activities, the developers provide printable cards, lesson plans and ideas, and more. The printable cards offer quick challenges at a variety of difficulties, such as creating a bot that will stop moving at the edge of a table or building a robot that steers when a hand is placed over it. Teachers will appreciate tasks that challenge students with inventing robots that behave like animals or characters in a story. Students will thoroughly enjoy trying to make a robot that can help them escape a dark room. As students master these skills, they'll learn to think about how Cubelets interact with each other to create a system.

After these experiences, teachers could introduce middle and high school kids to Cubelets Blockly, where students can code new behaviors. This adds an entirely new dimension and amount of depth to Cubelets. If students have used other block-style coding programs, Blockly will look familiar. The developer's website has a series of tutorials to help teachers and students figure it all out.

The Cubelets site also has lesson plans for grades K-12. The most robust of these is the sequence of introductory Cubelets units and the Computer Science unit. The site has lots of additional lesson ideas connected to Common Core, NGSS, and ISTE standards, with a few full lesson plans here and there. 

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Cubelets Blockly is a block-based visual programming app that sends instructions to Cubelets robots. It resembles a spartan-looking version of the popular Scratch app, using interlocking puzzle pieces to create a program. After putting all of the desired Cubelets together, connect an iPad, PC, Mac, or Chromebook via Bluetooth (this does require the Bluetooth Cubelet or Bluetooth Hat). Each Cubelet can then be programmed with its own set of code, which allows for nearly endless possibilities as students construct and code with these modular robots. 

Cubelets robots themselves are highly configurable and can be used without the Cubelets Blockly app at all. The cube-shaped robots each have specialized functions that, when connected by their magnetic faces, create robots with different behaviors. There are three types of Cubelets: Sense, Think, and Act. Sense Cubelets gather information from the environment, such as distance, temperature, or brightness. Data collected by a  Sense Cubelet is translated into a number, or value, which is then passed on to other Cubelets. Think Cubelets can be thought of as simple brains, and do things such as invert the sense value or block a value altogether. Other Think Cubelets include the battery cube, as well as the Bluetooth cube, which is how Cubelets Blockly communicates with the Cubelets robots. Lastly, there are Act Cubelets, which perform actions. Drive cubes have wheels that allow the robot to move. The flashlight and speaker Cubelets produce light and sound.

A simple robot may be made out of the battery, distance, and drive Cubelets. By default, this robot would move when it sensed an object (such as a hand) at a certain distance. The closer the hand, the higher the sense value, the faster the robot would move. Adding the invert Cubelet would make this Cubelet robot move slower when an object was closer.

Cubelets robots and Cubelets Blockly are great additions to any classroom or STEM club. The very fact that primary, middle, and high school students can use Cubelets meaningfully, even without using Cubelets Blockly, makes investing in a set of them an opportunity for an entire school. Since the Cubelet robots can be used without Cubelets Blockly, they're accessible to more students, particularly at the elementary level. This isn't to say that older students wouldn't be challenged by just Cubelets, as the full suite of robots has some specialized Cubelets that add layers of complexity.

Cubelets Blockly's uncluttered interface is completely functional, but it isn't intended for younger students. The most important thing is that it works quickly. Connecting to a Cubelet is a quick process, and transmitting a new program to a Cubelet doesn't take long. Likewise, restoring the default program to a Cubelet is equally simple. The tutorials for Cubelets Blockly are comprehensive, but they aren't in the app -- students will need to access the website and switch back and forth on a single device, use a second device, or print the instructions. There's minimal support offered from within the app. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Students will find Cubelets fun to use, and there are lots of opportunities for teachers to create engaging challenges.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The beauty of Cubelets is that they can be used in many curricular areas. K-12 students can learn about topics from simple robotics to more advanced engineering and programming skills. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The website for Cubelets has tons of videos, tutorials, lesson plans or ideas, and other resources. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Shaun Langevin Technology coordinator

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